Telluride Off Road Jeep Tour
Everyone told us that "you're in Telluride, you need to take an off road jeep tour to the top of Imogene Pass." So during a vacation to Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado (click on the link to read about this fun filled vacation), we did a little research and decided to sign up for a Telluride jeep tour with Telluride Outside - and not just because we love the name.
Telluride Outside has several jeep tour options and we choose the Imogene Pass and Tomboy Ghost Town half day tour because it seemed to be a good mix of jaw dropping scenery, fascinating mining history, and a thrilling adventure - and it was all of that and more.
We were promptly picked up at Mountain Lodge at Telluride where we were staying for a couple days, introduced to our guide, Matt, and set off on our jeep tour adventure to the top of Imogene pass. One of the other things that our research pointed out and helped us decide to tour with Telluride Outside was that their tour vehicles are new model Chevy trucks that are customized for safety, comfort, and optimal viewing and the seats are heavily padded, the suspension is beefed up, and the cab is open so you can converse directly with your guide. Other tour companies use 1980 era vehicles or 30 year old european military vehicles - in fact, we passed a couple of them on our tour and their tour guests looked a little shaken-up and dusty as they gave us a jealous glare! But don't expect a super smooth ride - the tour takes you up and down steep, narrow, and twisting 100 year old dirt mining roads that are rough and bumpy and at times a little white knuckle! But fun!
We started with a short tour through the quaint town of Telluride where Matt gave us some interesting history on the town, recommended some good restaurants, and pointed out some lively bars! Just a tour through Telluride is fun - beautiful and unique homes, colorful landscaping, quaint shops, and interesting locals. Telluride is squeezed on three sides by rugged and breathtaking mountains and it wasn't long before we were off the paved roads and starting our ascent up a one lane dirt road to the top of 13,114' Imogene Pass. The roads were carved out of the side of the mountains over 100 years ago to support mining in the mountains and they were originally built for mule trains hauling mining supplies up the mountains - over time they've gotten a little wider, but not much. At times a sheer cliff ascending hundreds of feet into the clear blue sky would be on the left and a steep drop off down the mountain was on the right - definitely a white knuckle ride at times but the stunning scenery and Matt's history lessons kept our minds off the narrow twisting road. Matt was a superb driver and had no trouble talking, answering questions, and pointing out features ("keep your hands and eyes on the road" kept flashing through my mind and threatening escape over my lips) as he expertly navigated up the mountain.
The views were unbelievable the higher we got - rugged mountain peaks, water falls, the town of Telluride far below us, snow capped 14,000 mountains in all directions, and lush green forests. Every turn was a Kodak moment!
A large part of the tour was about the very interesting mining history of the area. And Matt was very well informed and seemed genuinely interested in sharing that history with us. We made several stops to learn about mining and the colorful people who lived in the mountains at that time. Lots of very interesting stories - for example,
- in 1904 Fort Peabody (not much more than a small hut) was constructed on a bald peak overlooking the mining community and manned by the Colorado National Guard with gaitlen guns to prevent union miners from crossing during a labor strike - they wanted $3 a day for an eight hour day
- the miners carved a tunnel through the mountain that was later named "Social Tunnel" (halfway up the mountain from Telluride) where the lonely miners would leave their shacks to meet women where things of a "social" nature would take place
- the pass is home to an annual foot race that traverses 17 miles starting at 7800 feet and cresting at 13,114 feet at Imogene Pass - a change in elevation of just over a mile, I get winded after 1 flight of stairs, how do they do it
- the innovative aerial trams that carried ore up and down the mountains now carry thousands of skiers a day to the slopes of Telluride Ski area
One of our stops just short of the 11,500' Imogene Pass was at Tomboy Ghost Town (one of the highest ruins in the US) which is the remnants of what was a thriving mining town with with over 1000 inhabitants at the peak of the mining in 1800s. Tomboy boasted about some modern facilities that didn't typically exist in that era of mining camps, in fact there were even some tennis courts and a YMCA at 11,500'! The logistics of mining in the area (for example, getting food and supplies, labor and families, and building and mining gear up and down the steep mountain terrain) as well life in general on the side of a mountain during both the summer and winter is hard to imagine. Today, few buildings remain standing but the collapsed remains of others and lots of foundations are everywhere - it was amazing to stand overlooking the remains surrounded by the San Juan Mountains with Telluride over 2000' farther down the steep mountain side and listen to the history from Matt and imagining what it must have been like. Fascinating!
From Tomboy Ghost Town it was a short drive continuing up above the tree line on a narrow rocky switchback to the top of Imogene Pass - wow, a jaw dropping majestic panoramic view for what seemed like 1000s of miles into Colorado with several mountain ranges with 14,000' peaks. Snow was still on the ground, a small lake remained frozen, and it was windy and cold but well worth the view - our pictures don't come close to doing it justice.
The drive down was just as scenic but from a different perspective and Matt continued the entire trip with more interesting history! Speaking of Matt, it was his fun-loving personality, friendly attitude, and depth of knowledge and true love for the history of Telluride's flora, fauna, mountains, geology, wildlife, and mining history that made this a fun, very interesting, and memorable off road tour.
Telluride Outside offers some other 4 wheel drive half day and full day tours that include: Ophir Pass and the Ghost Town of Alta; the notorious off road pass to Black Bear which is recommended for thrill seekers and experienced 4-WD travelers; the Dunton Hot Springs tour which includes some off road as well as a stop at a posh, exclusive resort for a gourmet lunch, tour of the old town, and a soak in Dunton's famous natural hot springs; and a sunset 4-WD tour. In addition, Telluride Outside offers fly fishing trips, guided photography trips, snowmobile trips, and mountain bike tours. Give Telluride Outside a call - have fun.